COUNTY POLICE OFFICERS are getting out from behind their desks and back on the streets, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. The more than 100 volunteers who serve in the police reserve or participate in the Volunteers in Police Service programs are providing tremendous amounts of free labor to the department. County residents have not fully appreciated the magnitude of their efforts.
Not only did these generous souls save the taxpayers more than $560,000 last year, they also make county law enforcement more effective. When volunteers handle routine duties such as filing paperwork, making fingerprints, answering phones or conducting computer analyses, they free uniformed officers to focus their energies on efforts that prevent crime or help solve crimes that have been committed.
Anne Arundel's police volunteers come in two varieties -- reserve officers and Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS). Reserve officers, who wear brown uniforms with official patches, often are out in the streets directing traffic, patrolling neighborhoods and searching crime scenes.
While it may sound like exciting work, more than occasionally these volunteers are called out of bed in the middle of the night to assist uniformed officers. They are unarmed and don't have arrest powers.
VIPS are citizens who work behind the desks handling routine administrative duties. Many of these folks are retirees who like being active and have skills the department needs. Two retirees from the National Security Agency use computers to analyze crime statistics and identify "hot spots." This sophisticated use of technology and analytical skills helps police focus their energies on high-crime neighborhoods.
Most police officers welcome the assistance these volunteers provide. Many of the participants are as reliable, dedicated and committed as any paid employee. However, they are also free to stop showing up at any time. As the county's population grows and police work increases, it would be foolish to rely on these volunteers to carry more of the work load than they already do. There is an important place for volunteers in county policing, but the department should make take care that it doesn't become too dependent on volunteer labor.
Pub Date: 2/06/97